(CNSNews.com) - Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his agency considered signing on to the Justice Department's expanded non-profiling policy earlier this year, but because that policy was developed for law enforcement, it "didn't quite fit" for airport screeners.
"But TSA knows my view that we should not profile at airports," Johnson told the a Senate Homeland Security Oversight hearing on Tuesday.
Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, noted that TSA officials and Customs and Border Protection officials "are still permitted to use profiling when screening airline passengers and individuals crossing borders."
Franken said he continues to hear from his Somali constituents "that they experience profiling" and "are singled out for additional screening and questioning at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport so routinely that they prefer to drive to Chicago, over 400 miles away, rather than fly out of their hometown.
"And instead of fostering respect and cooperation, I worry that our current practices are nurturing fear and resentment," Franken said.
He asked Johnson how DHS can "do a better job of protecting our security while simultaneously respecting the dignities of those that are new to our communities."
"There is a general rule that we should not engage in racial profiling," Johnson responded. "That is still the case. That was the case before, that's the case now. Nationality, given the nature of our mission, is taken into account, for example.
"I have heard, just as you have heard from the Somali community in Minneapolis, that because of the profiling that they perceive occurs at the Minneapolis airport, they prefer to go to Chicago. I've heard the exact same thing. I asked TSA to undertake an evaluation and a study of that. They have come back to those in the community to address the concerns.
"I think it, frankly, continues to be a work in progress, but TSA knows my view that we should not profile at airports, and we should not make it the case that somebody'd prefer to go to Chicago versus Minneapolis, their own airport.
"And we've had, I think, some productive conversations with the community along these lines, but I think it also probably continues to be a work in progress, and it's something that's on my radar personally."
Shortly before Franken asked Johnson about the profiling of Somalis, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) discussed the recent arrests of six men from Minnesota's Somali community, who allegedly were plotting to travel to the Middle East to fight for ISIS. All six are now in federal custody.
"We have a terror recruiting problem in Minnesota," U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said at an April 20 news conference. Notably, none of those men flew out of Minnesota. Officials said they planned to fly from airports in San Diego and New York City to Mexico, then on to the Middle East.
Klobuchar praised a pilot program in Minnesota to combat extremism in the Somali community. "And I was wondering if we can get some more funding, to be so blunt, given that we have shown we are actually having these problems," she said.
Johnson reminded Klobuchar that he recently visited Minnesota: "I think it is important that we engage communities, community leaders, the Islamic community in this country.
"And I believe that through the good works of people like U.S. Attorney Andy Luger, there's been a lot of progress made in building trust between community leaders, family members and law enforcement, even federal law enforcement.
"So when I go to these communities, myself, I recognize it's an exercise in building trust. So they want to talk to me about profiling at the airports or some of their issues with how we enforce our immigration laws. And I want to listen. I want to learn from those experiences."
In December 2014, the Justice Department issued new guidance for federal law enforcement officers, who "may not use race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity to any degree" in the course of their daily work, except when they are looking for a suspect who has been described by witnesses.